Power Women

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a “Cousin’s Reunion” basically, a slumber party for the gown women of my extended family. I have wanted to attend this fun party for years but family schedule conflicts prevented me until this year. This year I was determined to get to go. This tradition was started about 7 years ago by my enterprising cousin Dena and has become such a huge family hit that they have to plan it a year in advance!

Dena’s idea is priceless. Pick a football Saturday in September or October when the Nebraska Husker game will most likely be televised and invite all the women from our grandmother Viona’s side of the family. This was truly visionary!

We dressed up in Red and Black Shirts depending on which family you belonged to. Then we cheered and hollered as our team battled Texas on TV. We celebrated good plays with shots of cinnamon cider vodka and danced and high fived each other with every score. We ate and drank and told stories, many I had never heard before, late into the evening and then we all crashed out in sleeping bags until sharing morning coffee and coffee cake.

Let me give you just a short but visual breakdown of the family. Four sisters, Viona, Iola, Opal and Vernetta each married and had families, actually fairly big families. They all married and raised their kids relatively near each other so the cousins were very close, nearly as close as siblings. In fact, Viona and Iola married brothers, Melvin and Chet so the cousins were “double cousins” or some such thing. When you see these kids now as adults in their 50’s- 70’s you would stop dead in your tracks because of how much they look alike. This was the cast of characters who participated in the reunion this year.
At this years reunion Iola was the matriarch in residence. She is now 97 years old and sharp as a tack. There is no way to be in her presence and not be amazed at her life. She radiates happiness and joy. She did a fair amount of the cooking bringing in family favorite treats like homemade coffee cake, rolls, and pigs in a blanket!

Iola had 13 children and raised them mainly in rural areas and on the farm. She has hundreds of grand kids and great grand kids and they all love Iola and it shows. They laugh, hug and tell old stories. They tell jokes, they get rowdy and they make everyone around them laugh. Her family makes a huge effort to make sure Iola gets to go to as many events as possible. When I sat and chatted with her she rattled off the upcoming year-several weddings, graduations, First Communions, Anniversaries etc. She was looking forward to all of them and was juggling a schedule that would turn any modern day suburban mom’s hair gray.

Being in the room with all these women was powerful. I love seeing them at weddings etc but to get to spend the afternoon and evening with them was special. It was more low key and offered more time for sharing stories and bonding.

I asked several of the women in their 60’s how do you let go of kids as they get older? I got some amazing input. I learned that several had no idea how important it was who your child chose as a spouse, because “if your child is happy so are you!” one cousin said. Others said, “life was simpler, not easier, but simpler when we were raising kids and when we grew up. Honestly, we did not have to worry about most of the stuff you have to worry about now. We knew everyone and everyone was a good person. You knew if you needed something there was going to be someone to help. Others helped you look out for your kids. We did not have all this technology, stranger danger, drugs etc. just were not a problem.” Yet another offered “you just do.”

I learned a lot. I learned again where I came from and why I do some of the things I do. I was in a room of very strong every day women who had each had joy and heartbreak in their life. I realized that I was normal because I worry about my kids; they worry about their kids and still do. I realized that I want to live my life like my Great Aunt Iola, I want to have fun, work hard, love my family, have a strong and deep faith and I want to make amazing coffee cake!

I remembered camping as a young kid with my parents and all my dad’s brothers and sisters. We’d be parked out at the lake our eight or nine campers gathered in a circle like we were on the Oregon Trail circling up at night to protect ourselves from the dangers of the prairie. Kids would be running around playing yard darts (with real spike darts I might add) or horseshoes. Suddenly the smell of Grandma’s coffee cake would start to float around in the breeze and sure enough we’d all find a reason to amble on over to her camper for a visit only to be rewarded with a generous piece of warm cinnamon crumb coffee cake to melt in our mouth.

This is what memories are made of.

So my friend I ask you, “what’s next on your list?”

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